Pay tribute to fallen this Memorial Day |

Pay tribute to fallen this Memorial Day

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

Memorial Day started in the South to commemorate the many brave people who fought and died in the Civil War. In time, it became the day to celebrate all of the brave men and women who have fought the many wars since America’s independence. It’s celebrated on the last Monday in May every year.

Hundreds of thousands of men were killed in the Civil War; in World War II, America lost 4,000 Marines in just one day on Iwo Jima.

I was born six years after the end of World War I and was too young to be drafted immediately after the start of World War II.

In my lifetime, America has fought wars in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and now is still fighting one in the Middle East. World War II took four years out of my life when I was between 18 and 22 years old. In my case, I can honestly say that enlisting in the Navy was one of the best things I ever did in my life. It got me out of living in a dysfunctional household, and I think I learned something during every single day I had a uniform on, not to mention I’d be a truly undisciplined mess if I hadn’t had the experience.

I was lucky to be given at education at the University of Southern California. I never thought of becoming an attorney, a doctor, a pharmacist, an engineer or accountant so during those semesters, I took courses in physics, analytical geometry, astrophysics, geology and concentrated on the physical sciences. I learned so much during the two months living in the Berkeley Carteret hotel on the oceanfront in Asbury Park, New Jersey; the four months at midshipman school at Northwestern University in Chicago; two months at a small craft training center in Miami, Florida; and about a year and a half overseas on a sub-chasers. I was very lucky that I never got shot at, but I was on one sub-chaser that broke up in a typhoon and was sunk out from under us in heavy seas that the Captain estimated to be to be over 50 feet high. Everybody on board survived, which was amazing.

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On Memorial Day this year, once again tens of thousands of white crosses will have flowers placed at their base in honor of all the fallen heroes.

Along with those flowers at the base of those white crosses, in countless towns across America, there will be parades of and for veterans, soldiers, sailors and Marines marching down Main Street. They will all be proudly wearing part or all of their uniforms, depending on how heavy they have gotten. They will be displaying their well-earned campaign bars with a rifle over their shoulder. They deserve more applause than they ever get from the watching crowd.

Before I enlisted in the Navy, Memorial Day was the first three-day weekend of the year when I could ride my home-made, 100 pound, redwood surfboard for three days in a row without ditching school.

I only had one bad Memorial Day on a surfboard and that was at Sunset Cliffs near San Diego. I got wiped out on a pretty good-sized wave and I thought my board had gone all away to the beach. I then felt very lucky when I was able to catch the next big wave body surfing and unfortunately came down real hard on my surfboard and broke four ribs. The water was very cold that early in the spring and as you know, when you break a rib, you can’t take a deep breath. It got very painful so I later bummed a free ride to the local drugstore and bought four dollars worth of adhesive tape and a friend taped my chest up very tightly. I missed the rest of that Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend because I couldn’t paddle and catch a wave all taped up.

In the 1950s, when I started producing ski movies, I very quickly became aware of which resorts would be operating over the Memorial Day weekend. Mammoth Mountain, of course, was always at the top of the list for getting a substantial amount of footage on good snow with good skiers showing off what they had learned since the year before. The other two good locations for filming were Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon and the deep snows of Mount Baker.

Living here on an island in the Pacific Northwest almost 30 miles from the Whidbey Island Naval Base, it is so quiet here that when the Navy fighter planes push the throttle forward and take off we can hear them that far away. It’s with a sense of pride and security every time I hear them.

Did you know that America today has in its arsenal, airplanes that can go 1,500 mph, which is considerably faster than the airplanes that flew over our sub-chaser that was stationed at Guadalcanal in 1944?

When are the men and women of the world going to get smart and realize that it’s virtually impossible and absolutely stupid to think that anyone can acquire someone else’s real estate with bullets and bombs?

If you own one or more American flags, then make sure that you display them proudly on Monday. If you have children, then Memorial Day is one of the best holidays of the year for you to teach your children lessons of pride of being an American.

Set some time aside on Monday and pay tribute to all the men and women who have spent a portion or all of their lives defending our Constitution and our freedom to live and work wherever we a choose.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to

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